Arnold Taylor says he was five or six years old when government officials came to his home in Curve Lake First Nation and tore him away from everything he knew in a nightmare that would last nine years.
Being told they were going to buy new clothes, Taylor says he went with the strangers only to end up at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, where the symbolic cleaving of his culture started immediately with the cutting of his long hair.
“At the residential school we couldn't talk our language or even practise our culture. Any time the staff heard us talking our language, we’d get a severe strapping, or some of the staff would just give us a toothbrush and we'd have to scrub out the washroom,” Taylor recalls.
Taylor says just two outfits were provided; one to wear all week, and a second for wash days.
His new home soon became known to him as The Mush Hole, so-called for the porridge the children were fed three times a day.
“If we didn't eat that porridge that day, we'd have to eat it the next day,” says Taylor.
Although being housed with lots of other children didn’t feel traumatic for Taylor as a young boy having grown up in the close-knit First Nation, as he aged, he began to understand more of what was happening around him.
“As I grew older, I realized that they're trying to segregate us and take the Indian-ness out of us,” Taylor says.
He was completely cut off from his siblings from the time they entered the residential school. The only time he saw them was in passing on the way to church, but communication was forbidden.
“I’d see some kids there just keep crying all the time because they were really homesick and missed their parents. Every once in a while, I used to cry,” Taylor says, getting choked up.
“Then, if the supervisor saw you crying, you'd get another strapping.”
In spite of the constant threat of physical violence, Taylor says he did learn resilience and how to look after himself.
“The only thing I lost was just my language. I can hardly speak it now or understand it.”
The experience also bred a rebellion inside the boy, leaving him with little respect for authority and especially the Church.
“If there was a God, he should have stepped in to save us. So to me, as far as I’m concerned, there is no God,” Taylor says.